Clifford Geertz on Jared Diamond and Richard A. Posner

Geertz reviews Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond, and Catastrophe: Risk and Response by Richard A. Posner, in the New York Review of Books:

They have, as one would expect, rather different approaches to the question of social fatality. For Diamond, it is a gradual, cumulative affair, accelerating only toward the end when some hard-to-fix tipping point is mindlessly passed. There is a progressive misuse of the natural resources upon which the society is based to the point where collective life collapses into a self-consuming Hobbesean state of nature. For Posner, “catastrophe” is a distant, extrapolated culmination of present trends, an annihilating accident, implicit and unnoticed, waiting to happen—”a momentous tragic usually sudden event [producing] utter overthrow or ruin.”

Whether societies waste away in ecological neglect or are destroyed by foreseeable disasters they have failed to prevent, for both writers vigilance and resolve are the price of survival. Awareness is all. However much they may differ in style and method (and they occupy the poles of the social sciences—dogged, fact-thick empiricism on the one side, model-and-calculate political arithmetic on the other), these are consciousness-raising books, tracts for the time. It is later than we think. Later even than we have thought to think.

More here.